I remember that summer of 67’ when it all seemed to come together, the feeling that we were different, that we had it all, that our generation meant something and we could change the world; I was just nineteen years old. This account of that time, and events leading up to and following this momentous year, are based on my own experiences and memories. I do not necessarily subscribe to the saying that ‘if you can remember the 60’s you weren’t there’ I was there (with all that this means) and I can remember most of it!
After the trauma of the second world war the late 50’s and early 60’s had brought a new kind of fear into our lives with the ‘Bomb’. This in turn brought about a protest movement against England having Nuclear weapons in our country; and a call for the testing and spread of these weapons to be halted world wide. The movement became the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958. The CND as it is better known was initially the prerogative of the anti establishment, at the front were the members of the English ‘Beat Generation’ brought up on a diet of New York’s Greenwich Village intellectuals, like Ginsburg and Burrows with a copy of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ thrown in. Other sections of our society began to join, including prominent scientists, intellectuals and ordinary working class people when the realization of what having the Bomb might mean, in terms of our security and sanity sank in.
The country was completely divided. Most students, radicals and left wing intellectuals, the Labor Party etc.. were against the bomb, and sat on the left. The Government along with the rest of the population were sitting firmly on the right, subscribing to the theory that it would be better to have one than just let everyone else dictate the terms; when push came to shove.
A mass march was decided as a show of strength and support for the CND, this took place in the Easter break of 1958 from London to Aldermaston; the home of the Atomic Weapons Establishment. Several thousand people took part in the first one. It was all very exciting; you could say feelings were running high.
In line with the feeling at this time a young American singer/songwriter called Robert Zimmerman (soon to be known as Bob Dylan) wrote and sang a song called ‘The Times they are a Changing’. They certainly were.
‘Ban the Bomb’ marches were soon taking place annually with thousands of marchers converging on London’s Trafalgar Square from all over the county. Starting points were chosen with the original Aldermaston and High Wickham being just two. It was a strange mix of people; well known Politicians and religious leaders marching along with the beatniks and students. The standard dress was jeans and duffle coats with sandals or desert boots, very drab. By 1962 the marches were attracting tens of thousands. These protests were the establishments first warning of what was to come. The great unwashed had got to its feet and found a voice. There were huge rallies all over the country and the protests continued for years.
The C.N.D. is still a recognized movement today and still campaigns for the same ideals as it always has. A Welsh ladies group called ‘The Woman for Life on Earth’ occupied and set up camps at Greenham Common Berkshire outside the American Air force Base in 1982. This was to protest against American Cruise Missiles being based on British soil, it became the Women’s Peace Camp and lasted until the base closed in 2000. At one time there were 70,000 protesters forming a human chain around the base as a show of solidarity.
By 1967 the main focus for protest had changed as the world moved on, the protests continued with a new perceived threat to our civil liberties, a new reason to protest America and its policies… Vietnam.
Vietnam was at that time a little known country in South East Asia with a long coast line. Until the mid to late fifties it was occupied by the French as a colony. The locals eventually kicked them out with the help of Chinese Communists who trained and supported what later became the North Vietnamese Army. Unwittingly the American’s also helped in this, as they also sent in ‘advisers’ who trained a man called Ho Chi Min. In a few years he became the leader of the Communist backed guerrilla army called the Viet Cong, he would lead them against the ‘American Imperialist Aggressors’ who astonishingly took over from the French to try and subvert a supposed Communist takeover of the country. They set up a puppet government to act as a front against the Communists and went for it.
This War cost the lives of 58,000 Americans along with untold Vietnamese civilians and Viet Cong troops. It was to become the most unpopular war in America’s history; and a war they finally lost. The end of America’s part coming with the signing of a secrete peace agreement in 1973 between them and the North Vietnamese Army in Paris. Their ground troops were withdrawn immediately to leave the South Vietnamese Army fighting on its own. The end finally came in 1975 with the fall of Saigon and victory to the Communist Viet Cong
It was the first war ever to be broadcast live and uncensored into your living room, the footage of the fighting and bombing was graphic; it shocked America and the world so badly that this type of live coverage has never happened again. Even today the coverage is limited by comparison with ‘The Nam’.
During the early stages of the conflict America had tried to gain support and troops from other countries to aid them, fortunately, our Government under Harold Wilson, must have seen the writing on the wall; and declined the invitation. For a while however all young men of sound mind and body felt the same; terrified. There had been talk of England bringing back conscription. Australia did however send in men who served and died with some distinction however unpopular it was.
By the mid sixties a change started within the music industry as more and more bands were themselves influenced by the changing world around them. Young people were fed up with all the trouble and strife around them; the new music told everyone how they felt. The protest movement of the early sixties gave birth to the ‘singer song writer’ with the likes of Dylan and Joan Baez at the front followed by the likes of Pete Seeger and of course Joni Mitchell. New groups started up like The Band, Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead and The Doors. From San Francisco to London the Hippies had arrived. Flower Power was sweeping away the old Music of the fifties once and for all, it took Rock and Roll and merged it with the blues and even Country music with the likes of Crosby, Stills and Nash in a way that had not been done before; even Dylan went electric much to the distain of his original Folk music fans. We had our own English bands that got the Hippie Dream like Erie Burdon and the Animals and it was this year that Pink Floyd hit the music scene with their first album A Saucer Full of Secrets. Fleetwood Mac were still a blues band but not for much longer.
The Sixties had taken on a whole new look with the arrival of the hippies, the new mode of dress for the young was shoulder length hair with a head band, tie-dyed tee shirts of orange and purple, brightly colored bell bottomed jeans, afghan coats made from sheep skin; and this was just the men! Girls wore mini skirts that their father’s would never approve of. Brightly colored maxi dresses, cut off halter neck tops, and best of all as far as the men were concerned… no bras. The whole ensemble was set off by strings of brightly colored beads and of course flowers in your hair. Quite an upgrade from the duffle coats and jeans of the Beat Generation.
‘Make love not war’ we chanted as the American involvement in Vietnam stepped up a gear. Young people all over the world marched against the war and filled the streets with peace, love and the distinctive smell of marijuana. Unfortunately in America the government took a dim view of the protests and the marches turned into riots as the police and National Guard moved in. There is a famous photo of a hippie girl posting long stemmed flowers down the gun barrels of the National Guards rifles as they blocked the roads to stop a rally. There were also Race Riots all over the States with many deaths as a new radical colored movement started and the words Black Power became the fear of the American right wing politicians. A new kind of revolution was in the air and Governments felt the heat from Europe to Washington and beyond.
Our idols were no longer chosen for us, we worshiped different gods. John Lennon and Yoko marched along side the peace movement; giving a voice to all those who could not be heard. Graffiti on the walls of London declared Eric Clapton to be God. The Beatles and many others went to India to learn the art of meditation. Timothy Leary was the ‘chosen one’ for the Hippies, a self proclaimed Guru for the Californian Hippies he introduced the world to the psychedelic drug LSD, offering his disciples the chance to ‘Turn on, Tune in and Drop out’. It would allow you to expand your mind, to see things and hear things way outside the norm. Sex and Music took on a whole new dimension. Thousands did use it and proclaimed it to be able to take them close to Nirvana. Some ‘trips’ that were taken however were not what they expected; they took them to hell.
Some people believed while under the influence they could do things that were imposable, like fly. They tried…. and died leaping out of windows. LSD was a man made drug, unlike the Grass and Hashish that had been around for ever. In the sixties marijuana was not adulterated as it is now, it seldom caused the problems we now associate with drugs such as LSD and super dope like Skunk, let alone Cristal Meth.
1967 was the time of the Monterey International Music Festival in southern California; the time of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who and Jefferson Airplane along with many others; they ‘told it like it was’ and close to 100,000 people went there to hear the message.
In 1969 it was an unknown man called Max Yasgur who offered his farm near White Lake, New York State to some people to hold a music festival, they expected a few thousand at best; the event took on a life of its own… and grew into Woodstock. This time 500,000 people turned up; and no one could ignore the message. Many of the bands and singers that played this festival are still going strong today like Carlos Santana, many however became casualties in the following years, like Hendrix and Janis Joplin; lost to drink and drugs.
Woodstock is considered by many to be the pivotal moment in the history of rock and roll; its influence spread all over the world. Nothing would ever be the same again.
1967 has been called ‘The Summer of Love’ and it was. Young people everywhere found a new freedom through music and of course drugs and alcohol that no one could control, people would just pick up a sleeping bag and get out on the road to anywhere, there were always some people like you at the other end to stay with; communes sprang up everywhere.
‘Make Love not War’ was the saying, and no one wanted to go to war… so we all made love. We had the pill, and aids was not even on the horizon; so we all went for it like there was to be no tomorrow. Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll became a lifestyle and for a while we thought it would never end.
The Hippie dream eventually did end, it died over the following few years a victim of its own excesses. Our love affair with Leary and his alternative universe via acid (LSD) fell apart after the realization that this was one trip you may not make it back from; many didn’t. The hippies grew up, got married and had kids of their own, some remained true to there beliefs others moved on a got a new life. Some may say a real one.
Many people believe that the beginning of the end was the Altamont festival in December 1969 in Northern California. The Rolling Stones were headlining and allegedly had employed a local chapter of the Hells Angels to act as security for the stage area at the event. It led to chaos, and a young man called Meredith Hunter was stabbed and killed in front of the stage. Violence broke out everywhere and there was wholesale damage. The age of innocence was over.
The music from those days however lives on, not only are some of the original bands still on the road, they now have so called ‘tribute bands’ playing the music of Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Pink Floyd and the Stones to packed venues and cheering audiences all over the world. For me and thousands like me it still stirs the memories of that time when for my generation, the world was ours to win… and anything was possible.
Looking back with all the benefits that age and understanding can bring you, it’s easy to be critical, and pour cold water on all the idealism, to ridicule the lifestyle of this time; however it would also be ridiculous to pretend that the freedom we enjoyed was anything other than the best of times for many of us. To be 19 years old in 1967 was to have a sense of freedom completely unknown to the teenagers of 2012.
Unemployment was not something that we thought about, and student debt was referred to as an outstanding bar bill. Property prices were low with the national average at £3,500. Renting was also an easy option; so living at home with your parents was an unnecessary hindrance to your private life. A new Ford Cortina would cost you £749.00. Petrol using today’s money was 27p a gallon; life was good.
Today few children can afford to leave home, house prices are way out of the reach of most young couples; and no one will lend you the money to buy one anyway without a large deposit. Rents are as much as a mortgage and sometimes more. It’s not unusual for the ‘kids’ to be still living with Mum and Dad way into their late twenties and even thirties.
Going to University is a thing you have to really think about because of the loans required to pay for your education; The Bank of Mum and Dad is not what it used to be. With two million plus unemployed getting a job is something a lot of young people can only dream about. Life seems to be getting harder and harder for this generation to make their way in the world; I for one do not envy them for all their new technology.
Other things of significance happening during this year were the starting of colour television broadcasts on BBC2 for the first time, the first ever heart transplant took place, Francis Chichester sailed in to Plymouth Sound becoming the first person to sail around the world non stop single handed. BBC Radio One started followed closely by 2/3/4 of their radio stations. The world was to see its first and only supersonic passenger plane as Concord was revealed and tested for the first time.
On a wider front Che Guevara was captured and shot to death in Bolivia, his picture is still on people’s bedroom walls as the original Freedom Fighter. The race to the moon was gaining momentum and America had its first casualties with Apollo 1 exploding into a flash fire within the command module during a test before take off. The crew Virgil Grissom, Edd White and Roger Chaffee were all killed.
The world has changed many times since 1967 and many more wars have been won and lost leaving new threats out there waiting for us. Technology has brought us unbelievable wonders, with computers and mobile phones to mention just two things that I for one could never have imagined all those years ago. The young are still out there protesting; and these days it’s not just the prerogative of the young. Each new generation has its own problems to face and deal with; its part of life and growing up.
I heard it said once that it is the duty of the young to rebel as with out it there can be no change; only stagnation. I make no comment on this except to say that all those years ago ‘I did my bit’.
Many people from those halcyon days (now in their 60’s) may no longer have the hair and beards they sported or the velvet jeans and beads, but underneath today’s suit and tie… or posh frock and high heals the same person exists; and on their iPod or hidden away in An old record or c.d. collection you will find a Doors album; Jim Morrison singing ‘Riders of the Storm’ was simply unforgettable. From later (1973) Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ was a must, The Grateful Dead were as underground as it gets and ‘Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band’ was a must have. It was called the ‘sound track’ to the summer of love.
Scratch the surface of a lot of people of a certain age and you will find many an old Hippie struggling to get out. Those that lived through (and survived) these exciting times will never forget them.
Right on Man!